‘Made from this Land’ a new public artwork by Emma Edmondson, commissioned by Focal Point Gallery and Southend City Council and conceived in response to Southchurch and Thorpe Bay’s rich brickfield history, which will be launched in June 2023.
Over the last two years, Emma Edmondson has researched extensively into the history of brickfields, connecting with residents whose families worked at the brickfields, local historians, Essex Record Office, Leigh Heritage Centre and Southend Museums. Southchurch and Thorpe Bay are rich in clay and during the 1800s there lay an array of working brickfields, with bricks from here sent to London on barges that travelled up the Estuary. Edmondson also discovered that in the deeds of many houses in Southchurch there is a covenant stating residents are not allowed to make bricks or tiles from the clay underneath their land. As a local resident, Edmondson became interested in these far-removed systems and rules and through this commission wants to start a conversation about agency, land ownership and our connections as humans to the land we live on.
As part of her research, Edmondson learnt traditional hand-thrown artisan brickmaking techniques from W H Collier, a Marks Tey based handmade brick company, who have been active since the 1860s and who had ties with brickfields in Southend-on-Sea. She has also been working with local ceramicists, Richard Baxter, and Hayley Summers, to create slips and glazes from local seashells alongside learning to brick lay with local traditional brick layer Pete Franklin, who specialises in restoring historic burr walls around Southend. This work has resulted in the fabrication of over 500 hand-made bricks using processed by hand Southend clay, made in collaboration with nearly 100 members of the community through a series of public workshops.
The public artwork will be installed in May 2023 and will comprise of three sculptures in the form of brick columns and a short brick wall, accompanied by information panels located at the boundaries of the historical brickfields of Southchurch and Thorpe Bay to create a walking trail for local residents and visitors to Southend. The designs of the three sculptures are reminiscent of the columns and walls that would have been built during the late 19th and early 20th century as Southend expanded, and still are found throughout these now residential areas. ‘Made from this Land’ explores the rich and untold history of local brickfields to create a permanent artwork formed of the clay of Southchurch.
A publication will be launched in conjunction with the sculptures, bringing together detailed research, local writers and oral histories collected throughout the project. This publication charting these histories and the development of the project has been supported by additional funding awarded to the artist from; Arts Council England, Essex Heritage Trust, Southend Friends of Museums, Alan Simpson Solicitors and Dedman Gray.